Autoregulating the Texas Method Part 2: Fatigue Management

This is the second article in a series on Autoregulating the Texas Method.
Click Here for Part 1: The Basics
Click Here for Part 3: Template and Exercise Selection
Click Here for Part 4: Periodization and Final Thoughts

In Part 1 of this series I presented a basic program in which I applied Autoregulatory tools on top of the Texas Method. The fatigue protocol I specified was rather simple. However, if we’re going to adequately describe the Texas Method using the RTS model we will need to use a little more finesse when we talk about the fatigue protocols. After all, the Texas Method works via the intimate interplay between fitness and fatigue.

The Two-Factor Fitness/Fatigue Model

simple1
Source: Science and Practice of Strength Training 2nd Edition

The two-factor training theory roughly states that there are two products resulting from training, a positive, fitness product, and a negative, fatigue product. These products are transient and their summation determines an athletes performance.¹ The two-factor model is useful in explaining the body’s response to training. I specifically bring up this model because it’s crucial to understand that to utilize their newly developed strength the athlete must first dissipate some of the fatigue developed.

Developing the Fatigue Protocol

The Texas Method works on a weekly time-scale. Monday’s workout builds strength and hypertrophy while also accumulating significant fatigue. By Friday, the fatigue should be mostly dissipated allowing the athlete to set a new PR. Therefore, in determining the fatigue protocol we need to have the athlete do enough work on monday such that it produces strength gains without accumulating too much fatigue so that by the time Friday rolls around they can’t perform.

The Reactive Training Systems, developed by Mike Tuchscherer, specifies the following fatigue protocols:

Stress Fatigue Definition
Low 1-3% Ample recovery between weeks
Medium 4-6% Complete recovery between weeks
High 6-9% Incomplete recovery between weeks

This protocol wasn’t really designed to specify fatigue intra-week but they can still be useful if we keep in mind their limitations. They also assume 6 exercises per pattern (upper/lower), however, I think they’re still useful if we’re talking about half that. In Part 1 I gave the fatigue protocol of 4-6% for each day. Clearly this doesn’t fulfill the requirements of this program. What we really want is to have higher fatigue towards the beginning of the week and lower fatigue towards the end. We still need to keep in mind the amount of volume and cannot decrease this too drastically. With these goals in mind we can come up with the following fatigue prescriptions:

Monday Wednesday Friday
6-9% 1-3% 4-6%

Explanation and Practical Considerations

Now that we have our fatigue prescriptions how do we apply them? The following are my recommendations to achieve the desired level of fatigue:

Volume Day

Repeat from 8 to ~9.5. Then Drop 3% and repeat until 9.

Development Day²

Pyramid up to topset (@7, @8, @9) then drop 3% and repeat until 9.

Intensity Day

Pyramid up to topset (@7, @8, @9) then drop 5% and repeat until 9.

Volume Day is where we’ll accumulate the most fatigue. We’ll use repeats here to be true to the original Texas Method. We’ll also use some dropsets to get to the level of fatigue we’re looking for. Development Day will introduce some slight fatigue but not enough to increase it beyond what we can dissipate within the week. This will allow us to garner some more volume and keep frequency high. Intensity Day is of course PR day. Hopefully the fatigue has dissipated enough for us to peak. We’ll also use this day to do some more volume to continue progress on into the next week.

Stay tuned for the next installment of the series where I’ll discuss my thoughts on the overall Template.

References:

1. Zatsiorsky, Vladimir M. “Basic Concepts of Training Theory.” Science and Practice of Strength Training. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 1995. 12-13. Print.

Notes:

2. You’ll notice I’m calling Wednesday “Development Day”. I want to get away from the notion of Recovery Day and all of its implied unimportance. It is important and we can use it to our advantage to work on our weak areas. But more on this in another part of this series.

How to find your projected topset using RPE

One of the most asked questions around the RTS forums is how do I determine my topset if I’m using RPE? It’s true that when we use RPE we’re autoregulating so we don’t know 100% what weights we’ll be hitting but we can extrapolate our topset from last week’s performance so that we’ll at least have a plan going into the workout.

RPE Chart
Source: http://reactivetrainingsystems.com

Let’s use a hypothetical situation as an example. Last week Joe squatted 500×5 @9. This week he’s slated to work up to a triple @9. This is what Joe should do to find his projected topset:

  1. Find x5 @9 on his RPE Chart¹. According to that chart, x5 @9 correlates to 77%
  2. Divide his topset by that percentage: 500/.77 = 650. This is his e1RM from last week.
  3. Find this week’s prescription on the RPE Chart. x3 @9 = 85%.
  4. Multiply last week’s e1RM by this percentage: 650*.85 = 550. His projected topset will be 550×3 @9

So Joe’s projected topset will be 550×3 @9. But how does he know if he’ll be able to hit that topset? This is supposed to be autoregulated! What Joe should do is two work-up sets at -10% and -5% from his projected topset². These sets will allow him to “calibrate” his topset for the day. So it’ll look similar to this:

495×3 @7
520×3 @8
550×3 @9

Using these calibration sets, by the time he does 520×3 he should know whether or not 550×3 @9 is in the cards for that day. Maybe 520×3 is more like an 8.5. He can subtract some weight from the topset. Or maybe 520×3 is a 9. He can stop there for the day. Maybe he’s having a really good day and 520×3 is more like a 7.5 and he should aim for 560 or 565.

This approach works really well to hone in on your topset. It also adds some extra volume that you might not have otherwise done. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you should try and hit the projected topset or to add weight to it. Keep in mind the initial projected topset should be considered your “maintenance” weight as it’s calculated off of last week’s e1RM, ie. your e1RM won’t change if you only hit the projected topset.

Now, if you’re new to an RPE based program and don’t have date with which to extrapolate, I’d suggest you work up in a similar way with moderate jumps until you hit your prescribed RPE.

Notes:

  1. For best results you should customize your RPE Chart

  2. I picked this up from Mike T.

RPE: An abstraction of Intensity

Autoregulation has seemingly taken the powerlifting world by storm. A quick look at any random lifter on instagram or youtube and you’re likely to see a reference to RPE or the ubiquitous @ syntax. RPE is the one tool which enables an autoregulatory overlay onto most powerlifting programs. This in and of itself is extremely useful. I think one of its biggest advantages over percentages, though, is its ability to abstract intensity.

When we talk about RPE in the sense of intensity and more specifically prescribe an RPE it’s important to note that you can’t separate RPE from a rep range. Without specified reps, RPE is just a scale. However, together RPE and reps correlate with an intensity. And like all good abstractions it removes the necessity for a certain foreknowledge and/or assumptions.

One of my favorite examples of the utility of the RPE abstraction is when prescribing intensity for new exercises. You’ll often run into lifters on forums or reddit commenting on an article about an exercise variation. One of the first questions they ask is naturally, “how heavy should I go?” Normally they’re answered by some sort of experienced lifter who’ll give an off-the-cuff percentage, “take 20% off your 1RM Squat and start there.” This is certainly a noble attempt by the experienced lifter but prescribing a percentage requires certain assumptions to be fulfilled:

  • The trainee has tested their 1RM at some point in their training career
  • The trainee has tested their 1RM somewhat recently
  • That the prescribed percentage will be appropriate for this trainee

RPE separates the notion of intensity from its underlying implementation. It allows you to prescribe an intensity without knowing a lot about the individual. So rather than say, “Do sets of 5 at 80%” you can say “work up and do sets of 5 across @7.” By using RPE you don’t need to take into account the trainees current level of experience, their 1RM or even their level of fatigue on the given day. The only thing they require is a half-decent ability to estimate RPE¹.

Notes:

  1. I realize that this might not always be realistic

Autoregulating the Texas Method Part 1: The Basics

This is the first article in a series on Autoregulating the Texas Method.
Click Here for Part 2: Fatigue Management
Click Here for Part 3: Template and Exercise Selection
Click Here for Part 4: Periodization and Final Thoughts

The Texas Method is a popular program for intermediate trainees. The typical setup involves a 5×5 volume day on monday and a heavy set of 5 on Friday. There are a multitude of modifications that can and are made to this program. Many are detailed in Justin Lascek’s ebooks as well as the latest edition of Practical Programming by Mark Rippetoe and Andy Baker. There isn’t much, however, on how to adapt this program for autoregulation. While I’ve written about this in the past I thought I’d give my current thoughts on how to approach this.

Why Autoregulate?

Autoregulation adapts the programming based on the level of fatigue (among other factors) the lifter has on a given day. One of the biggest difficulties in utilizing the TM, in my opinion, is how to progress the volume day. Many lifters develop a natural sense of when to increase the volume vs the intensity weight. Others find it more difficult to know when to change it.

Using autoregulation, specifically the RTS-style developed by Mike Tuchscherer, we can adapt the Texas Method and listen to our body systematically rather than increasing based on rules of thumb.

Example Template

Monday

Squat w/ Belt x5 @8, repeat 4-6%
Bench (touch and go) x5 @8, repeat 4-6%
2″ Deficit Deadlifts x5 @8, repeat 4-6%

Wednesday

2ct Pause Squat x4 @9 4-6%
2ct Pause Bench x4 @9 4-6%

Friday

Squat w/ Belt x3 @7 x3 @8 x3 @9 4-6%
Competition Bench x3 @7 x3 @8 x3 @9 4-6%
Deadlift w/ Belt x3 @7 x3 @8 x3 @9 4-6%

Commentary

For those unfamiliar with notation and terminology used above I would recommend you check out the resources on the Reactive Training Systems website. On Monday we’re using repeats to get some volume at lower intensity. This will be similar to the training effect already utilized by the Texas Method. I utilized 4-6% fatigue (Medium) as a baseline but it’s conceivable that some weeks you should push the repeat set up to a 10. For those unadapted to deadlifting multiple times per week you could start out with working up to a topset @9 with no dropset or you could sub in some kind of row.

Wednesday involves some pause work although there’s no reason you couldn’t include other variations. Friday has you work up in triples with the intent of doing a pyramid of @7, @8, and @9. Those first two sets will tell you whether you should go for a PR or not. You should err on this side of going for that PR. However, if the first two sets are more like @8 and @9 you should stop there.

Who would benefit from this?

The limitation of this program is obviously it was developed for a generic lifter. It will need to be customized for each individuals scenario. Conceivably, someone who is already using the TM with success and wants to begin autoregulating their training could use something like this to do so.

Disclaimer

I have not tested this variant on anyone. It is my personal opinion on how to work autoregulation into the TM. If you wish to try it I’d be happy to hear from you. If you would like to discuss how you might adapt this to your current state of development I’d be happy to discuss it with you.

Training – 08/20/2013 – Volume

Squat
45×5
135×5
225×3
315×3@7 (add belt)
335×3@7
355×3@7
365×3@8
365×3@8
365×3@8
365×3@9
330×3@8 (Drop 10%)
330×3@9

Bench Press
45×5
135×3
165×3
195×3@7 (add wraps)
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@9
195×3@8 (Drop 10%)
195×3@8

Decided to try wearing weightlifting shoes after consistently wearing wrestling shoes for the past couple months. I’ve decided to go back to weightlifting shoes for several reasons. With the flat shoes I felt like I often got too far back and lost some power out of the hole. With the heeled shoes I felt like I could get a lot more upright and get a better bounce. I do have to worry about my knees getting forward but otherwise it felt like a win. On Bench I felt the shoes actually allowed me to get a tighter arch. I’ll still wear the flat shoes for pulling but for everything else it’ll be the weightlifting.

My 8-9 weight on squats were heavier this week for whatever reason. I’m still second guessing a lot of my RPE calls but I’m pretty sure I’m getting them close. Dropped 10% on the volume sets today to get in some more after the main work set. Hopefully with that and the weightlifting shoes this week’s intensity day will go better than last week.

Training – 08/18/2013 – Intensity

Squat
45×5
135×3
225×3
315×3 (add belt)
365×1@8
410×2@10 (Failed on 3rd)
395×2@10 (Drop 3%)

Bench Press
45×5
135×3
165x3x2
195×3@7 (add belt + wraps)
215×2@7
235×4@10 (4RM, paused, PR!)
225×4@9 (Drop 3%)
225×4@10

Sumo Deadlift
135×3
225×3
315×2 (add belt)
405×1@8
435×1@9
435×1@10
415×1@10 (Drop 5%)

It was real hot today. First heavy squat set didn’t go so well. The bar wanted to roll up my back and I had to fight it back the whole way up. I did some work earlier that I think fatigued my legs and caused me to only get two. Oh well, I’ll get it next week.

Bench went real well. Got a new paused 4RM @ 10. Did two drop sets for some volume.

My plan for deadlift was to do a bunch of singles @ 9 but I didn’t end up getting as many as I wanted thanks to the before-mentioned fatigue.

Training – 08/15/2013 – Volume

Squat
45×5
135×3
225×3
315×3@7 (add Belt)
335×3@7
355×3@8
355×3@8
355×3@8
355×3@9

Bench Press
45×3
135×3
165×3
195×3@7 (add wraps)
205×3@7
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@8
215×3@8 (More like 8.5)
215×3@8
215×4@10

First session doing RTS-style autoregulation. Kept rest times under 5 mins. It’s important to keep rest times in check when identifying RPEs. If you rest too long it will throw them off.

Squats caused some low-back fatigue. There’s probably still fatigue built up from my sheiko run which isn’t entirely dissipated. My RPEs were right on for Squats.

On Bench I started to wonder if I might have miss-labeled the first 8 set. I took the last set to failure to test my RPE-identifying ability. I was pretty much dead on. The 3rd rep was a 9. I hit a fourth rep and then failed on the fifth.

Much less hellish than Sheiko was. In fact, I actually felt really good at the end of this session rather than absolutely murdered like I did on Sheiko. I really want to trust my self on RPE identification for Bench. Looking at the log that seems like the proper amount of volume I’ll need on Bench. Maybe muh body just knows?

Texas Method + RTS: An Experiment

What’s next?

Since I’ve hit the end of my little Sheiko stint I’ve started to wonder what’s next. I haven’t done a ton of programs but I do know that the Texas Method worked real well for me in the past. The biggest problem I encountered with it was there wasn’t any autoregulation going on. Mondays were “beat down your body” and Fridays were “PR at all costs”. Autoregulation requires you to “listen to your body”. Problem is I’m still a relative newb and it’s hard to do that.

Enter the Reactive Training Systems

I’ve been following Mike Tuchscherer over at Reactive Training Systems for a while now and have come to respect him and his approach to training. He uses RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) as a way to subjectively decide a lifts relative difficulty. Using this scale from 1-10 you can adapt the weight on the bar to your current level of fatigue and ability. Mike describes RTS as the scope which can fit on most rifles (programs). This got me thinking: if I can adapt RTS to the Texas Method maybe I can better autoregulate my volume.

The Template

Volume Recovery Intensity
5s or triples @ 8-9 5s @ 7-8 (Front Squats: triples @ 8-9) 5s, triples, doubles, singles, 5, 3, 2, 1 @ 9-10

Volume day is the most important in terms of autoregulation. What this means is that I will work up to a weight with 5s or triples such that at the end of the set it feels like I have 2 to 3 more reps left (RPE of 8). Once I hit this weight I will continue to do 5s or triples until at the end of the set I feel like I have only 1 rep left in the tank (RPE of 9). This should autoregulate the volume and keep it in check such that I don’t over do it on Volume Days.

Intensity day will be largely the same. I will try to push the weight up each week. What will change, however, is how many reps I do based on the RPE. If I hit three reps @ 9 I’ll do another. Or if I only hit 2 @ 10 I’ll stop.

This is the basic template of my experiment. This is all subject to change based on my findings. Stay tuned for updates!

Testing Maxes, PRs, and thoughts going forward

Squat
135×1
225×3
315×2
365×1
405×1
435×1 (Ties comp PR)
445×1 (Ties all-time PR)
455×1 (All new PR)

Bench Press
135×5
185×3
225×1
245×1
255×1
265×1 (New Paused PR)

Sumo Deadlift
135×1
225×1
315×1
405×1
435×1
455×1 (New Sumo PR)

Decided to test my maxes this day. This is kind of bad, but I got bored with Sheiko. I didn’t actually finish all of 37 (skipped the last two days). I will admit I’ve got a bit of training ADD at the moment. I feel like I’ve earned the right to start experimenting. I’ve trained the way I “should” the past two years. Starting Strength -> Texas Method.

I’m now considering how I will move forward in my training. Sheiko is pretty rough and I really don’t like the idea of not doing any 90%+ work for weeks at a time. I also miss PRing more often. I just finished reading “Squat Every Day” by Matt Perryman (highly recommended). He makes a really good case for trying a bulgarian-style approach. I also finished “The Reactive Training Systems Manual” by Mike Tuchscherer. I’m a big fan of Mike’s approach to autoregulation.

In the past I made a lot of progress on the Texas Method. The problem I had was that there was no autoregulation going on and I didn’t know how hard to hit it on volume day and would often miss on Intensity day because I didn’t manage recovery properly. I’m thinking of trying an experiment by combining Texas Method with RTS fundamentals to make it more autoregulated. I’m still new to RTS but I think I can apply RPE and fatigue drops to better manage the volume and intensity. The only thing I worry about is my bench which floundered on the TM after a time. This was probably due to a lack of volume which I will keep in mind this time around.